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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie boarded a flight from Nice to Los Angeles last September, neither of them could have realized the trip would mark the beginning of one of the nastiest splits in Hollywood history.
We now know the fated journey, during which Brad got into a disagreement with his 15-year-old son Maddox, would lead to an explosive FBI investigation into what really happened on the plane.
Less than a year earlier the couple had posed together on the red carpet while promoting their latest movie together, By the Sea—ironically a film about the breakdown of a marriage. Despite the depressing subject matter, Brad and Angelina acted like two people deeply in love as they held hands and looked adoringly into one another's eyes while photographers joyfully snapped away.
Their romance had a rocky beginning, due to the perceived overlap with Brad's previous marriage to Jennifer Aniston. Yet it didn't take long for Brangelina to become the hottest couple in Hollywood. During their 11 years together, Angelina transformed from the "other woman" into a regal world-class humanitarian and director, while Brad managed to shed any doubt over whether he should have stayed with his first wife by becoming a doting father to six incredible children.
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To describe them as "head over heels" during their happiest moments would be an understatement. As a source, who socialized with them on a number of occasions before their split, explained to me, "I've never spent time with two people more intoxicated with one another. The chemistry when they were in the same room together was palpable."
But then, seven months ago, it all fell apart. As they traveled from France to the U.S., they stopped in Minnesota to refuel, setting off a chain of events that sparked a public battle of epic proportions not seen since Brad's split from Jen.
It was clear from the moment the sensational news broke that Angelina had filed for divorce that this was not going to be like the goop-sanctioned breakups we have been privy to in the past. Instead of consciously uncoupling amid joint photo opportunities with estranged spouses and co-parents putting on their best movie star smiles, there were jaw-dropping allegations, most of which were aimed in Brad's direction. Had he been drinking excessively? Did he get too close to his Allied co-star Marion Cotillard? Was he too strict with the kids? The never-ending blame over who was really at fault for the disintegration of the most public of marriages played out on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
Little did we realize, as the headlines started to pile up, that the explosive nature of the breakup was merely mirroring the relationship dynamics that had been playing out behind closed doors in the months before that fated trip. "Things had been volatile in their relationship for a little while," says an insider. "They had crazy fights and wouldn't speak for a bit. They would take some time apart, go on location, calm down and miss each other.
"But, no matter how bad it got, Brad, especially, was never planning on walking away. Every so often, Angelina threatened divorce, but in Brad's eyes, their lives were stressful because they were raising six kids, things were always going to work out."
Obviously he was wrong.
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By Thanksgiving, the war between the Jolie-Pitts was reaching fever pitch and Brad had barely seen the kids since Jolie filed for divorce seeking primary custody. Confusion still remained even after he was cleared by authorities in the plane incident. Then when he was temporarily granted only supervised visitation, it ominously seemed that Brad and Angelina would never see eye to eye.
But as 2017 rolled around, there was a ceasefire. Finally, the two managed to agree on something— and that was to seal any court documents relating to custody, thus putting an end to the publicly frosty he-said, she-said as Brad fought for more access to their kids.
In February, when Angelina was promoting her movie First They Killed My Father in Cambodia, she broke her silence on the split, telling the BBC, "We are and forever will be a family. And so that is how I'm coping. I'm coping with finding a way through to make sure this somehow makes us stronger and closer."
It was only weeks later that we discovered the exact meaning behind her words. Brad had secretly traveled to Cambodia as well, on a prearranged trip so he could spend time with the children. While Brad and Angelina opted to stay in different accommodations, it was still a clear improvement from the bitter rivalry that had split their family apart the previous fall.
So what changed? A source explains, "Brad was shocked at how quickly their family just blew up. Both him and Angelina had always led very private lives and did everything they could to stay out of the public eye for the children's sake. That was an important value and vision that they both shared. And then, for Brad, it felt like she took the kids away and started an all-out war, and that was hard for him to reconcile.
"They did not speak at all for months," the source continues. "He was furious with her in a way he has never been furious before. This was a defining moment in his life and he felt devastated and lost without his kids. He wanted to protect them but everything was discussed through lawyers."
According to our insider, from the very start Brad hoped the details of their split would remain confidential, but it took some time for both of them to agree on their differences. "They have made some progress and are taking small steps in the right direction. Both are in agreement on putting the kids first. So that part of the equation is better."
It's now been seven months since Angelina's surprise filing and, while things are far from the fairy tale we once imagined their life to be, the Jolie-Pitts are managing to regain some of the privacy they once enjoyed. The kids are now rebuilding their relationship with their father, and the actors who first met when they played an embattled couple in Mr. and Mrs. Smith are finally on speaking terms. Things are starting to go back to a new kind of normal for the clan.
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"The kids have always adored Brad and have a very solid relationship with him," says a friend of the pair. "He is a fun dad and extremely loving and affectionate but definitely the disciplinarian and stricter of the two parents. They have occasional moments, like any parents and kids do, but at the end of the day there is nothing but love, role modeling and guidance at the core."
Therapists have also helped bring the family back together. "Angelina regrets the way she handled certain things and wants to be at peace with Brad," the friend says. And Brad "will continue to put the kids first and not say anything negative about their mother.
"He feels like his life fell apart in one day. His kids are everything to him and their happiness and success is what's most important. He would never ever put them through what they went through if he could have prevented it."
As far as those inevitable rumors that the pair might become the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of the modern era, our sources say a romantic reconciliation is very unlikely. "Brad is way too upset still. He blames Angie for how public everything became," one insider says. "He knows that eventually it is best to forgive her and be on good terms for the sake of the children but he feels let down in a way he never thought was possible. He saw a different side of her and he can't forget. The way everything went down has been beyond comprehension."
Although the source does warn us that, when it comes to these two, you can "never say never."
Angelina has also been doing her part to try to heal the inevitable pain a family feels when it is torn apart. While initially choosing to rent a Malibu home for her and the children to reside in post-blowup, she has now forked out $25 million so the kids can live just a few streets away from the home they shared with their dad in Los Feliz. "Going back and forth from Malibu was far and inconvenient," confirms an insider. "They will be moving in this summer and will continue to see Brad more regularly."
Ultimately, there are six young people who matter more to Brad and Angelina than any slight or hurt feelings.
"It all comes down to what's best for the kids," the source says, "and Brad hopes that somehow, some way, they will come out of this stronger and better off. He is going to devote his life to being the best dad he can be."